When 17-year-old Fangapulotu Pau’u joined YMCA’s youth development programme – Raise Up – she never imagined the experience would lead her to a major award.

In September 2017, Lotu, as she is known to her friends, was named the Paykel Family Youth Leader of the Year at YMCA’s annual general meeting. She was recognised for her efforts in large part because of the more than 200 hours she had spent volunteering over the past 12 months for the Onehunga Raise Up crew at the Sir William Jordan Recreation Centre managed by YMCA.

Raise Up is made up of teenagers aged 13-18 who volunteer their time to organise and run events. Lotu joined the Onehunga Raise Up crew in October 2016 and has quickly established herself as a leader.

“I moved to Onehunga two or three years ago. I had friends in Raise Up who always talked about it so I decided to join.”

Lotu says joining Raise Up quickly made her feel a part of Onehunga, and has helped her connect with the local community.

“I like the idea of Raise Up and how it gets youth involved in the community. It has also been really cool to be a part of organising local youth events.”

Onehunga Raise Up coordinator Adam Brown-Rigg says Lotu is extremely deserving of the Youth Leader of the Year Award.

“Lotu is a great leader of the Onehunga Raise Up crew and really rose to the occasion as MC at our Y-Factor youth talent event and as part of the team organising several other big events such as our yearly Santa Parade.”

Adam says during the Y-Factor event Lotu made a lasting impression on the manager of Te Oro youth and arts centre in Glen Innes. As a result, Raise Up were invited to hold meetings from Te Oro and to sit on a youth advisory panel in the local community.

Lotu’s enthusiasm and passion for ensuring youth have a voice also drove her to participate in and help interview high school students as part of a local council youth survey in 2017. The survey aimed to ensure local young people have a say in issues regarding public transport, local activities and youth friendly spaces in their local area.

“Not only is Lotu a great ambassador for Raise Up, she is also a great ambassador for her generation and is proof of what young people can achieve when given the right opportunities,” Adam says.

Lotu says being a part of Raise Up has helped her gain leadership skills, new friends and a better connection to community. She graduated from high school at the end of 2017, and is now looking at how she can pay forward some of the skills she has learnt during her time with Raise Up.

“I wouldn’t mind becoming a Raise Up coordinator. It would be great to help other youth and get more people involved.”

It’s a sentiment shared by Adam: “Lotu has a bright future ahead of her and we’d be very lucky to be a part of that journey.”

You can help young people like Lotu achieve their full potential. Donate to Raise Up by visiting the YMCA Everyday Hero page.